Written by: EsportsJohn
Table of Contents
Fnatic ride into BlizzCon with the momentum of a team on their first big break. 2016 has been a year full of hard work and dedication, but it’s not quite over yet. Fnatic will need to play better than ever if they hope to defeat their regional rival Dignitas or the Korean or Chinese powerhouses for a Top 4 finish. When it comes down to it, Fnatic’s inexperience on the world stage will be a huge factor in whether they can put up a good showing or go home early. In any case, Europe’s younger brother has finally grown up and now has a shot at the throne. Will they pull through?
Fnatic’s roots in the scene go all the way back to the Alpha in late 2014 with a roster headlined by former SC2 players NaNiwa and SaSe. The roster unfortunately disbanded almost immediately following their 2014 BlizzCon showmatches, but the organization decided to stay involved in the scene and a new roster was formed in January of 2015 with AceofSpades, Lowell, Fred, Shinobu, and Kesil.
Nothing of real note happened during this timespan for Fnatic, and they had a long series of transformations to undergo before they would become the championship-quality team we know today. Lukewarm results over the next few months led to changes; Fred, Shinobu, and AceofSpades left and new players Breez and Ménè were brought in. Wubby also originally joined the roster at this time, but his career would take several twists and turns before he ended up back on the team.
Fnatic’s results weren’t impressive during the 2015 Heroes World Championship (HWC) events. They placed rather poorly at the European Championship in Prague due to their relatively poor understanding of the double Warrior metagame that was in vogue and the time and missed their opportunity to go to BlizzCon 2015. Cracks began to form and an end-of-the-year roster change became necessary again.
The Fnatic we’re more familiar with was beginning to form. Kesil, Lowell, and Wubby left and the team was reformed around Breez and Ménè. Two outstanding players who managed to grab the 8th qualifying spot at Prague under the wildcard team Pirates in Pyjamas, Quackniix and Smexystyle, knew Breez from a small Swedish team they had formed together in early in their Heroes of the Storm careers. Based on the players’ surprisingly good performance in Prague, Fnatic knew these two would be good additions to the roster. To fill in the gaps, they also picked up Shad for their next major tournament, DreamHack Winter. To the surprise of everyone, the new Fnatic roster dominated DreamHack and took first place against Team Liquid, then-undisputed the king of Europe.
At the end of 2015, Fnatic finished strong and looked like a contender for 2016, but two other giants were also forming: Team Dignitas (formerly Bob?) and mYinsanity. Throughout 2016, these two teams would prove to be a thorn in Fnatic’s side by preventing them from reaching the Global Championship multiple times.
Fnatic’s 2016 Run
On paper, the scene in Europe this year has been characterized by a power struggle between the two regional giants mYinsanity (now Misfits) and Team Dignitas, with a score of underperforming teams in the lower echelons of play competing for a spot in the regional semifinals. There’s no doubt that Fnatic held the definitive third place spot in the region, but most of this year has been spent ping-ponging between the two giants, unable to clench a spot at the Global Championships until now.
It seems crazy to call Fnatic a “dark horse” team since they made it to the playoffs for every regional tournament. They’ve had an exceptional roster all year long and were feared by many but could never quite seize the spot for a Global Championship. In fact, ask almost any team in Europe and they will say it’s a three-way tie for the top spot.
“We consistently improve and have, for a while now. been considered Top 3 EU and at all offline events. We have had fairly good results; even though we haven’t won a regionals yet, we have always finished within Top 4.”
The beginning of 2015 wasn’t great for Fnatic, but Europe as a whole was in ruins. All of the top teams had just undergone Europe’s first rosterpocalypse and were testing the waters for the first time with unsteady legs. Players had been shuffled from every major team to another, and many teams were hardly recognizable after nearly restructuring the entire roster (Team Liquid, for example). It was a period of great experimentation, but it quickly became obvious at IEM Katowice that the rosterpocalypse had negatively affected the region as whole.
Fnatic’s lineup had also undergone a few changes. Ménè left and Shad was let go; flex player scHwimpi and unique tank player Atheroangel took their places. Ménè and Shad were undoubtedly some very talented players, but Fnatic’s new roster looked stronger than ever. They absolutely wrecked the regional qualifiers, in large part due to Quackniix’s new Greymane pick, and secured their spot in the European Championship.
Needless to say, the first regional at IEM Katowice was shaky for all the teams, but Fnatic appeared to have come out ahead with the roster changes. They won their group in convincing fashion but fell to the eventual champions, Dignitas, in their semifinal match. This was the first of many times that Dignitas would present themselves as a brick wall to Fnatic’s tournament progress.
While Dignitas and mYinsanity went off to the Spring Global Championship, Fnatic stayed behind and trained. The Summer season would prove to be a pivotal point in the shift of power, but it didn’t happen all at once. Their performance at the first European Championship in Leicester was adequate, but once again mYinsanity and Dignitas swatted them down with superior double support compositions that Fnatic was less familiar with.
Shockingly, Dignitas announced the departure of Wubby from their roster following their win at Leicester, and Fnatic was quick to scoop him up and form an all Swedish roster. The result was a huge improvement in communication since the team could shotcall in their native tongue and bond better as a team. All at once, Fnatic seemed to come into their own and pose a real threat to the top teams.
“We have had some roster swaps over the year, and every swap has lead to a better Fnatic, meaning our overall performance has just been going up as we have shown more consistency and proven to ourselves that we are a top tier team in EU.”
The second European Championship at DreamHack Tours resulted in Fnatic with their first finals placement in over six months. Though they fell 3-0 against mYinsanity’s flawless run through the tournament, they KO’d their group and annihilated their semifinals opponent teh89 without any real effort. It’s worth noting that Dignitas had a surprisingly poor showing at Tours by failing to even make it out of the group stage (quite possibly because AlexTheProG was still adjusting to the team), but Fnatic would prove again and again during the Fall Championship that they deserved their spot in the top two.
Valencia. Fnatic beat Dignitas to make it out of their group in first place. They 3-0’d mYinsanity in the semifinals. They then took on Dignitas again and pulled the series all the way to a game 5 in the finals. Unfortunately, they missed the championship trophy by the slimmest of margins, but the slightest of differences could have pushed the tides in their favor. At Gamescom, Fnatic brought Misfits (formerly mYinsanity) to the very brink of elimination and went on to play them again in a qualification tiebreaker (due to ESL rules). In the end, they barely eked out the win and guaranteed their spot on the world stage at BlizzCon—at long last.
On the tank role, Pontus “Breez” Sjogren is a energetic fireball of a player. Known for his shouting onstage during games, he brings a ton of energy and enthusiasm during matches and keeps up the team momentum. If you can hear “KAEL’THAS!!” from the opposite end of the venue, you’re probably hearing Breez.
Breez is definitely one of the most aggressive tank players in Europe and never wavers when it comes to engaging in a teamfight. He has a fairly wide Hero pool, but most of the time we tend to see him on the “big three” tanks: E.T.C., Muradin, and Johanna. He’s proven that he can also play some of the nonstandard tanks like Arthas and Diablo like a champion, so nothing is out of the question. Whatever tank he’s on, expect to see him engage without hesitation when he sees an opening in the enemy’s defense and pull the trigger in teamfights.
Previously on Natus Vincere during the height of their power in late 2015, Simon “scHwimpi” Svensson is Fnatic’s flex player. Generally quiet in demeanor, scHwimpi is still energetic onstage and often lets out a tremendous roar when his team wins a major teamfight. His general enthusiasm and strong morale help to raise up other players and keep them focused.
Like all flex players, scHwimpi’s Hero pool is quite wide, ranging from off-tanks to ranged Assassins to super niche picks. However, he rarely plays bruisers or melee Assassins, leaving the role to Wubby. He’s often on “toxic” Heroes like Medivh or Zagara which can be extremely obnoxious to deal with. He secretly laments playing only the most annoying Heroes and envies the melee role (says inside sources), but he’s content with his role on the team. He brings a huge amount of preparation and skill to whichever Hero he plays. At the present, he is arguably the best Abathur player in the world, rivaled only by Fan or KyoCha.
As quite possibly the best mechanical player in Europe, Jonathan “Wubby” Gunnarsson is the perfect flex. He tends to specialize in melee Assassins and off-tanks, but history has shown that he can play any role including tank or support. Known as a relatively quiet person, Wubby tends to be more withdrawn than the rest of the team. Nonetheless, his entrance to the team strongly impacted the communication and camaraderie of the team positively.
Wubby is a beast on high impact melee Assassins like Zeratul or Thrall. He can quite easily carry teamfights with outstanding mechanical plays and often comes out of games as the MVP. On tanky bruisers like Leoric or Anub’arak, he matches Breez’s aggression and often puts a lot of pressure on the back line with his perfectly timed dives. Keep an eye out for this playmaker, as his gameplay will often be the most decisive factor in Fnatic’s teamfights.
The unlikely hero of Fnatic is Dob “Quackniix” Engström. This oddball player joined Fnatic after leaving the Swedish underdog team Pirates in Pyjamas and quickly took charge as the team captain and shotcaller. On the role of ranged Assassin, he’s generally on the forefront of the metagame and has often popularized power picks.
Long thought of as a “one-trick pony” type of player (first on Falstad, then on Greymane), Quackniix has been under close scrutiny by the public eye. However, he has proven his aptitude to play any Hero he sees fit. A natural talent for gaming combined with his strong work ethic and practice regimen allow him to perfect his play on any Hero. Along with his brilliant shotcalling and focus on teamwork, Quackniix is undoubtedly one of the best overall players in Europe, maybe even the world.
The heart of the team is Filip “Smexystyle” Liljeström, often just called “Smexy” (or even just “SmX”). He is one of the most uplifting and supportive players (forgive the pun) in the Heroes scene and keeps Fnatic on track when they’re feeling down—he’s also pretty good at staring contests.
Team coach Careion cites him as very motivated and always hungry to improve. When Smexy first joined Fnatic, he was often looked upon as the weak link on the team but has since shown great improvement and become one of the best support players in Europe. Like most support players, he generally plays the most popular Heroes in the meta, but if you had to choose a signature Hero for him it would be Kharazim. During the past few months, Smexy has cultivated an impressive amount of skill on the Hero and—dare I say?—even rivals Bakery as the best Kharazim player in Europe now.
If there were one word to describe Fnatic’s playstyle, it would be aggressive. They are, by and large, the most aggressive team in the midst of Europe’s relatively safe, macro-heavy meta. Contrary to Misfits’ careful, calculated, long-term plays, Fnatic is never afraid to enter fights and force errors out of their opponents to gain short-term advantages. But they’ve evolved too.
During the Spring Season, this unbridled aggression was more of a weakness than a strength. They often faltered in the late game with overly aggressive plays or Core dives and found themselves in bad positions due to botched fights and poor map control.
“In the beginning, they had a very aggressive playstyle with intense rotations trying to snipe one out, always trying to force the 5v4, and sometimes being a little over-aggressive,” recalls Fnatic’s coach Careion, “like doing too much, especially when [they’re] up…and then throwing the game because [they] weren’t patient and controlled enough to wait out the game.”
Careion worked hard during the Summer Season to temper the team’s hasty decisions and convert their aggression into a valuable asset instead of a liability. Fnatic began to pull back their aggression and become more disciplined and more adept at controlling the pace of the game. They pulled all the pieces together and managed to develop their macro play alongside their insane mechanics in time, and now they rarely, if ever, make impulsive decisions during the late game.
When it comes to drafting, it’s more about the map than the playstyle for Quackniix. “I try to make sure that playing the map is always the center of attention,” he explained, “meaning I adapt the drafts for the map more than for a specific playstyle to make less room for failure or playstyles backfiring.” By using this top down method of drafting, Fnatic tends to play “predictably”, but they always draft the strongest overall composition.
“We have had some different playstyles over the year since you follow meta. As [the] meta changes, you just have to adapt and find your place—sometimes its aggressive dive, sometimes it’s pickoff, and sometimes it’s the slow comps that work the best.”
A large part of their success in the Fall Season has been the “unbeatable” composition on small maps: double Warrior, a global presence Hero (usually Falstad), solo support Tassadar, and a ranged DPS to round out the composition. With this particular setup, Fnatic took advantage of the minion changes to create an ultra-tanky composition which could brawl forever while large minion waves built up in the side lanes.
The power of this composition not only showed Fnatic’s unique ability to grab hold off the metagame and execute a strategy perfectly but also showcased their incredible improvement in terms of patience and macro play. They used the strategy much less during Gamescom, but it’s a wonderful example of how the team has evolved over the year. With double tank still very much in vogue, we can expect to see Fnatic’s trademark composition at least once during BlizzCon.
Heading Into BlizzCon
Fnatic’s road to BlizzCon began a year ago after their untimely departure in Prague. Since then, steady improvement within the roster, management, and strategy has transformed them into a force to be reckoned with. Heading into BlizzCon this year, they are expected to perform well. However, with a lack of experience on the global stage and basically no exposure to Asian teams, it will be an uphill battle.
“You can never underestimate them [the minor regions], even if it’s a region like Australia/New Zealand or South America. Even if they go out every time in the first group stage, you cannot expect it to happen the same at BlizzCon—that you will just beat them with ease. It’s not like that, you always have to prepare.”
Team coach Careion comments that the team is wary stepping onto the global stage for the first time, “You can never underestimate them [the minor regions]…that you will just beat them with ease. It’s not like that, you have to prepare.”
Though Fnatic is looking at all the teams, a large part of their study is centered on their most dangerous foes: the Korean giants MVP Black and Ballistix (formerly L5). If they want to take it all the way, they’ll need to keep pace with the titans and be ready for any curve balls that get thrown at them—a tall task, no doubt.
“I hope and believe that we are working in the right direction, meaning everything we do is helping us improve and will only boost our performance continuing forward.”
“We have finished 2nd more than one time, showing we have what it takes. We have grown and become a lot stronger as a unit and as individuals,” Quackniix stated proudly, aware of the incredible growth that Fnatic has undergone this year. “I believe we have a chance [at BlizzCon] for sure. We just gotta make sure we spend the time well in terms of practice and preparation,” he added. Whatever the case may be, Fnatic has already proven in 2016 that their hard work and dedication pays off. Tackling BlizzCon may be a monumental task, but if any team is up to it, it’s Fnatic.
A huge thanks to Quackniix and Careion for carrying me through some of the team details! Thank you for bearing with me during the delay on this article! It was great meeting and talking to both of you, and I hope Fnatic does great at BlizzCon!